Sunday, August 5, 2018

#Teaching Tip #6. Study guides and grading them

This is the sixth of a series of 10 posts.
All 10 posts ran on consecutive weeks. 

As of Labor Day, 2018, all ten of these #Teaching Tip posts are searchable on my blog.

If you're not a teacher and you're reading this,
let a teacher know they are available.

I've been in enough in-service/professional-development sessions to guarantee that the information in this series is better than most of the information you’ll get while sitting through all your teacher workshops this coming school year.

You might be asking yourself,
What gives this guy the nerve to offer ideas about teaching AND commentary on professional development to anyone?

That's a legitimate question.
I invite you to follow this link and check my credentials.

As time passed during my teaching career, the biggest change I noticed was in the number of “B” students. These were students who gave it their best shot and missed accumulating enough evidence/points to crack the “A” level.

At some point, it became “okay” to “take a C” if you weren’t getting an A in a class. While that bothers me, it did lead me to some inner musing. I mused until I had one revelation.

I was a good student. My process was to find out what a given teacher wanted and give that to them. I did things I thought were useless. Only once did I go to a teacher and complain.

John Burak was my high school biology teacher. Tough, picky, demanding are the minimal descriptors I’d use for Mr. Burak.

At some point in the class, he assigned chapter outlines as homework. They weren’t going to count much. The intent was to focus our reading. Lots of time invested. Questionable return, in my opinion.
I hate outlining just about everything. I talked with three or four classmates. "We" decided to approach Mr. Burak and see how we could get out of the assignment.

On the day we’d chosen, the four of us approached Mr. Burak at his desk.

“We don’t want to do the chapter outlines,” I said.
Mr. Burak looked at me. I mildly puzzled expression appeared on his face.
“Is there something we can do to not have to outline chapters?” I asked.
“Well, Mr. Downing, I’m not sure who you are including in ‘we,’ but I’ll tell you what. You don’t have to turn in any outlines. If you get an A on every test, you’ll never have to turn them in. If you get less than an A on any test, you’ll have to turn all the outlines in, no matter how many A grades you have.”

It sounded like a good deal to me. I turned to my friends.

There was no one behind me.

I turned back around.

“Thank you. Is this a policy for the whole class?” I asked.
Mr. Burak thought for a moment.
“I don’t see why not.”

I never got less than an A on any test for the rest of the year. I don’t know if anyone else in the class accepted the offer/challenge. I suspect there might have been a couple.


Stay with me. I’m heading toward a point I want to make.

Most students will do something they don’t want to do, if they see a distinct benefit or if they are getting points (a grade) for it.

Whenever the last post of this series occurs, which looks like two from now, I’ll discuss the use of categories in computing semester grades. For right now, you need to know that all the study guide points were worth a fixed amount of the final grade—regardless of the total points by the end of the semester.

Study Guides
When I returned to high school teaching after “professoring” for eight years at Point Loma Nazarene University, the school district I was hired into was opposed to counting homework in the semester grade.

I considered that short-sighted thinking. I still do.

But, I realized that there were some activities and assignments that were for students to learn and others were for assessing learning. In the latter category, some items were for self-assessment and others for “a grade.”

Students did a lot of work in my classes. A significant portion of that work was for learning and self-assessment. Grading it was problematic. In some cases, students were at various stages of understanding when assignments were completed. In other cases, the activity was designed as practice or review. In either case, an “academic” grade wasn’t at that point for the work wasn’t fair.

What follows is the solution my teaching partners in our 9th grade Global Science class devised to address the problem. Over the course of a unit of instruction, a list of assignments that fit the above description was written on the whiteboard.

As another assignment was completed, it joined the list. The last items—numbers 8 and 9 in the photo—were always notes taken during lecture.

Students were directed to keep their study guide assignments in order in the “Study Guide” section of their notebook.
Under Materials to be brought to class daily, you'll find the binder division names.
"Review" appears as a category in Sem 2 only in this handout.
The percentages are missing. I don't know why.
I checked and the Review category was worth from 3%-6%, depending on the semester.
Two days before each unit exam, class time was given for students to organize their study guides. Items had to be placed in the order shown on the board.

“With it” students kept the items in the correct order in their notebooks and filled in their copy of the grading sheet as the unit progressed. If the amount of class time provided was insufficient for a student to complete the assembly of the study guide, finishing the task became homework.

Each student added her/his name, the name of the unit, and the names of the items to the grading sheet.
Sample Grading Sheet
The study guide was stapled together with the grading sheet on top.

The expectation was for students to use the packet to study for the exam since it had all the classwork associated with the unit included in it.

On the day of the exam, the study guides were turned in before the exam began.

The day after the exam, class time was taken to “grade” the study guide.

Because of the nature of the inclusions in any study guide, grading was quickly accomplished.

As should be the case in most assignments:
  ü  Not every answer is essential.
  ü  Completeness is important.
  ü  Correctness may not be scored—that’s what the examination is for. In fact, once students realize that not all answers are graded, they are tempted to just answer, “you’ll never grade this one,” or “I don’t know, but that’s okay,” or other such statements. The problem with that strategy is that they don’t know which answer is gradable and which isn’t. Some still “take a chance” and use the above strategy. Most don’t.

Something like the above is on the whiteboard on study guide grading days.
Study guides were distributed randomly.

When a student received a study guide, he/she pulled the grading sheet off and filled in their name and the date at the bottom of the sheet.

They flipped through the study guide while I explained the notations on the board.

“Remember: Any activity that is out of order has two points deducted from the score before you circle any numbers in the scoring column. Activity number one is the Frobush Lab. If all data cells and answers are complete, circle the number 3 on that line. If one, two, three, or four items are not filled in, circle 2. If there are as many empty spaces as filled in spaces, circle 1. If this item is missing, circle 0.”

In the case of the above example, one box had been highlighted by the owner of the packet when the assignment was turned in. I’d graded that box. If no highlighting was evident, the item could not be “complete.”

I acted as judge and jury or issues brought up by the graders.

After all the items were scored, the circled numbers were totaled. That number was written on the score sheet and also on the first page of the study guide.

Comments by the grader could be added. If I’d been asked to judge something, that was often included as a comment. Something like, “Dr. Downing said . . .”

The grade sheets were turned in. The study guides were returned to their owners.

I NEVER GRADED A STUDY GUIDE MYSELF unless the student was absent from the day the study guide was put together until the day it was scored. In fact, I rarely looked at a study guide. After all, I'd already graded some and the rest I'd watched/helped while students checked items in class.

Interestingly enough, I had students who remarked as they turned in their answer sheet, “There was a lot of stuff from the study guide on the test.”

“What are the odds?” I asked in my most incredulous voice.

Most got the hint.

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#Teaching Tip #7 includes examples of the “trade/grade” or “self-grade” process and more hints on homework.

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